Proyecto Duo Turns the City’s Medianeras into Giant Canvases
Article by Sorcha O’Higgins.
The medianeras of Buenos Aires are a distinctly porteño architectural feature. Rising up to tower above the smaller-scale buildings in their shadows, these blank side walls of high-rise apartment buildings tell us a lot about the model of development in the city. Buenos Aires is laid out on a grid and traditionally, the terraced blocks in residential areas consist of long, linear plots that stretch back into the middle of the manzana, the short, squat facades of which belie the true nature of the construction behind them.
In the past decade or so, urban development in Buenos Aires has seen these properties replaced with large-scale, multi-unit buildings which cater to the city’s constantly expanding population. However, the footprint of the original construction is usually retained, creating what eventually becomes a terrace of apartment blocks. The medianeras facilitate the continuation of this typology, allowing for the erection of the same directly beside them.
In neighborhoods like Belgrano or Caballito, the culmination of this trend is visible on nearly every block. The urban grain is considerably higher and denser, and this often causes practical problems, with the increased demand on the electricity supply in these areas making them particularly susceptible to blackouts. In barrios such as Palermo and Villa Crespo, this scenario is being played out in real time, where the rhythm of the built environment is noticeably staggered, sharply rising and falling like a heart-monitor reading.
Medianeras are essentially exposed party walls. An Argentine film of the same name, a quirky and beautifully shot look at porteño culture, architecture and society, suggests that they are a contributing factor to the malaise of the city’s inhabitants. The units contained behind the faceless walls are often oppressively dark, and there are companies specializing in the construction of illegal windows punched through them. These huge, interrupted facades are often commandeered for advertising, but have seldom been used as a canvas for the street art Buenos Aires is so famous for. Until now.
Last November, an organization called Underground Producciones, in collaboration with the Buenos Aires City Government, initiated a mural project called Proyecto Duo with the aim of “bringing art to the streets”. Issues with permissions and access have previously made painting on these sidewalls impossible, so this initiative was the first step by the city government towards bringing large-scale murals into Palermo. Murals of this size are usually only seen in places like Barracas, an industrial area with a plethora of expansive walls, so the painted medianeras are impressive in terms of scale alone.
12 artists were commissioned to paint 6 medianeras in Palermo, with 2 artists collaborating on each. The arresting mural by Spok Brillo and Lean Frizzera (Malabia and Cordoba) depicts a 3-headed Hydra, a Greek mythological creature who grew two new heads each time one was cut off. The huge, red dragon holds a 3-headed toothbrush and took over 5 days to complete. It covers 2 walls on either side of a lightwell, leaving it to the viewer’s imagination to complete the picture.
Roma and El Marian’s collaboration (Honduras and Humboldt) combines the latter’s social portraiture with the former’s signature exploration of colour and geometry to create the mirrored torsos of two women amongst an undulating flow of abstract shapes.
The renowned fileteador Alfredo Genovese teamed up with artist Gordo Pelota (Niceto Vega and Godoy Cruz) to offer a different perspective on the neighbourhood it’s located in. Gordo Pelota painted a bus driver leaning out the window of a bus, with the phrase “I drive in Palermo, but I don’t sleep here” written in Genove’s decorative script, presumably referring to the gentrification of the area, which was once just another non-descript barrio.
Martin Ron’s particular brand of hyperrealism is juxtaposed against a graphic background by Nase Pop (Soler and Scalabrini Ortiz). The mural sees a young girl taking a “selfie” in front of extruded letters, patches of colourful brickwork and stylized elements and the wall is one of the most impressive of the 6.
Felipe Pantone and Paul Loubet’s wall (Niceto Vega and Uriarte) fuses Pantone’s trippy and distorted patterns with Loubet’s retro, computer-graphic animation. This wall challenges the perceptions of what constitutes “graffiti” and pushes the boundaries of traditional styles of the letter and character based media, while Grolou and Dame’s wall (Cabrera and Humboldt) draws on the more typical elements of graffiti and street art, combining pin-ups and motifs such as spray cans with tribal symbols and mythological animals.
Proyecto Duo recently released this incredible video, shot using drones, which really puts into perspective just how big these walls are. Seen from above and in context, the talent of these artists is immediately apparent, especially considering the huge scale they are working at. The project is a testament to the ability and vision of the city government to positively promote urban art, something which, given the success of the project and the overwhelming approval of the public, will hopefully be rolled out in other areas in the future.